Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 17

On this day in Illinois history (actually yesterday since I'm a day late), Jan. 17, 1927, members of the Birger Gang kidnapped the first member of the Illinois State Police to die in the line of action. A few hours later he was murdered in a wheat field near Du Bois in Washington Co., Illinois.

Lory L. Price's assignment on paper was to patrol Illinois Route 13 between Harrisburg and Carbondale. His secondary role was to serve as the eyes and ears of Gov. Len Small in the turbulent Egyptian Badlands of 1920s Southern Illinois.

Price wasn't the only one to die that night. Another carload of gangsters kidnapped his wife Ethel Price, a pregnant school teacher who had taken the spring semester off. They shot her and dumped her body in an abandoned mine's air shaft on what's now the grounds of the Williamson County Shrine Club on Route 37 north of Marion.

Price had known and had been friends with both Carl Shelton and Charlie Birger for more than a decade by that time, according to the story Price's half-brother William Dufour told me back in 1994.

A few months after the second trial acquitted the perpetrators of the Herrin Massacre, Gov. Small hired Price, a World War I veteran, to be a motorcycle cop on the newly opened stretch of Route 13.

His job wasn't Prohibition enforcement and he continued his contacts with all sides. Birger, in particular, would tip him off to the whereabouts of stolen cars when good rewards had been offered. The pair would then split the reward.

There are three versions of what happened the night of his kidnapping and death, Birger's, Art Newman's and the one told by Gary DeNeal's source for "A Knight of Another Sort," who took part.

The event took place following the open warfare between the two gangs in the fall of 1926, the murder of West City Mayor Joe Adams in December, and the burning of Shady Rest a few days before.

Price was finally acting like a cop, investigating and getting close to the more junior members of the gang locked up in the Williamson County Jail. There he may have learned that one of the prisoners was booked under an assumed name, and really was somebody else, one of Adams' two killers nonetheless.

If so, he also managed to talk to the killer's fellow gunman and younger brother who perished in the attack and destruction of Shady Rest. Price definitely was one of the last to visit the cabin before its destruction. How much had he put together and how much had he reported back to the governor.

It's my contention that Newman was most responsible for the night's events. He had decided that Price was too much of a liability and whose long-term relationship with Birger would keep the gang leader from doing anything about it. By ordering the other carload of gangsters to kill Ethel, rather than just keep her safely out of the way while they scared Price, Newman must have thought that it would force Birger's hand. It did.

Some of the accounts indicate Newman fired the first shot at Price.

Ethel probably died on the 17th before midnight. Lory likely was shot and killed after midnight in the early morning hours of the 18th. His body wasn't found until Feb. 5. Ethel's body wasn't found until later in June.

More about the events of the Price murders can be found in DeNeal's book as well as "Bloody Williamson" by Paul Angle, though not the background. For that you'll have to wait until my upcoming book, "The Bloody Years."

1 comment:

Zoe said...

Would you happen to know the address of the home that the Prices lived in at Marion? Thanks!